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  • Writer's pictureKim Purscell

Appropriate Behavior for Children

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

All parents believe their child is wonderful and endlessly fascinating. In truth, all children are amazing and lovable if they are well-behaved, but in today's society, many children have been raised with little structure and even fewer rules of conduct. They have no manners or sense of respect for other people's boundaries, feelings, or property. These same children will be shocked to discover as adults that others are not willing to tolerate their sense of entitlement. As parents, we need to teach our children manners at a young age and understand that certain behaviors in our children do not need to be tolerated by other adults.

How Children Should Interact with Adults

Children should always show respect to adults. Talking back or showing off a smart mouth is never cute or funny. If you find it amusing when they are 2 years old and laugh about it, you will regret it as they grow older because your children will not understand why you are changing your tune and disciplining them for disrespect when they are 5 or 6. Be consistent.

There are so many situations when children and adults interact, from family get-togethers to being in a restaurant, that children need to understand early what acceptable behavior is. Here are some key etiquette rules children should begin learning from the time they are young:

  • Say "please" and "thank you" whenever an adult gets them anything, whether it is a glass of water or a toy off a shelf.

  • Address an adult by his or her proper name. The child should use the adult's title and last name, such as "Mr. Morgan" or "Mrs. Smith," unless given permission by the adult to use a first name.

  • Never interrupt an adult conversation. This is one that seems to be falling by the wayside. So many children today tug at their mothers constantly, chirping, "Mom! Mom!" while their mothers are trying to carry on a conversation. Let your child know that this is rude and will not be tolerated. Children need to respect your conversation with other adults and wait their turn. To let children know you are aware they are there, put an arm around them or put a hand on their shoulder, but ask them to wait until you are finished with your conversation. When you talk to them, give them your full attention.

  • Children should be respectful when visiting other people's homes, including wiping their feet or, if it is the custom in that house, taking off their shoes before entering.

  • Chew food with mouths closed. This includes gum. Kids chomping on gum with their mouths open are rude and unattractive but very common these days.

  • Encourage your children to always allow an adult to go before them in line and to always open the door for any adult, particularly one who is carrying something or who is disabled or pregnant. Children who rush through a door in front of an adult are perceived as self-absorbed and impolite.

  • When visiting someone else's house, children should never disrupt the home by picking up or disturbing breakable objects or exploring rooms they are not invited into. It is not their home and curiosity is not an excuse; children need to understand boundaries and respect for other people's privacy.

General Behavior

Respecting the rights of others in the home will carry over to how children treat people outside the home. If you demand respect from your children and demand that they show respect to their siblings, it will carry over into the way they treat others in their day-to-day interactions.

  • Responsibility for their mistakes is essential for children. If an older child damages something that belongs to someone else, that child must apologize and offer to compensate that person for the damage done. If the child is old enough, he or she should work to earn the money to pay for the item.

  • Teach your children to be punctual. Chronic lateness is a sign of disrespect for the other person's time.

  • Cleaning up after themselves is a lesson that must be taught from a young age or it does not stick. Many parents of teens complain that their kids are slobs but admit that they never expected these same children to make their beds or pick up their clothes when they were 8 or 10 years old. Manners and respect must be taught early on.

  • Teach your children to always knock and get permission to enter before going into a room with a closed door. This includes their siblings' rooms. They must also ask and get permission to use personal items belonging to their siblings. For example, if your daughter wants to borrow her sister's new sweater, she has to ask.

  • Children should understand that they should never discuss family matters outside the home or discuss a family problem with others in order to discourage gossip.

  • Children should always clean up after themselves after making a snack or using the bathroom.

  • Sharing is the rule of any house, including the phone, television, and video games.

  • Teach your children the rules of fair play and sportsmanship early on, including being a good loser and a charming winner. They should not gloat when they win and should always tell the other team or their opponent that they played a good game. If children lose, they should congratulate the winner or winners graciously.

  • When children are in a group situation, at the playground, at a party, etc., your child should include other children rather than excluding them.

Your Responsibilities as a Parent

In addition to teaching your children proper etiquette, you have the responsibility to control their behavior to some extent, particularly during their younger years. Toddlers cannot be expected to understand all the rules of good behavior or exhibit self-control all the time. As a good parent, however, you can keep an eye on your children in public and control their behavior or remove them from the situation.

  • When dining in a restaurant, do not let your child run wild. You may enjoy being able to relax and talk with friends, but other diners do not want to be subjected to your children's antics. They have paid for a relaxing evening out as well, and that did not include screaming toddlers careening around the restaurant. Your children should always be seated at your table and supervised by you.

  • If your children have a meltdown in a public place such as a restaurant, the mall, or a movie theater, remove them. A child throwing a temper tantrum disrupts the enjoyment for everyone around you. Step outside and calm your child, then return. If you cannot calm your child, go home and try another day.

  • When visiting someone else's home, keep your children under control and supervise them. Do not allow them to touch breakables or climb on the bookshelves, etc. Ask the host or hostess which rooms they are permitted and be sure your children understand the rules.

  • Never, ever let your children touch someone's pet without permission from the owner. It can be dangerous if an animal is not used to children and may be upsetting to the animal. Also make it clear that taunting or teasing the animal is unacceptable.

  • Be sure that children show their excitement in appropriate ways. Laughter and enthusiasm are wonderful; shouting and running about in public places usually are not.

The best way to instill good manners in your children is to lead by example. Your own conduct in public and private will teach your children good manners instinctively, giving them the etiquette tools that will help them as they go out into the world as adults.

Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at

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